Geertgen tot Sint Jans (c. 1460 in Leyden, Netherlands – c. 1490 in Haarlem, Netherlands, sometimes known as Gerrit Gerritsz), was a 15th century Dutch painter active in Haarlem. The assignment of Leyden (or Leiden) as his birth place is traceable to a 17th century print in which the print maker, Jacob van Matham, makes the claim. The majority of our knowledge about Geertgen comes from Carel Van Mander's book, Het Schilderboek (The Painter's Book) published in 1604, from which modern scholars have attempted a calculation of the artist's death date. There are some archival traces that suggest he may in fact have lived into the 16th century. His name means little Gerard of the order of St. John the Baptist — also known as the Knights of St. John, Hospitallers. His short life (roughly 28 years) and his limited output have resulted in him being poorly known. Geertgen tot Sint Jans seems to have become a mature artist at an early age. Van Mander states that Albrecht Dürer said of Geertgen Truly he was a painter in his mother's womb, although Durer's journal of his Netherlandish travels doesn't mention this episode, and it has been suggested that Van Mander was using a form of epideictic rhetoric to build esteem for a fellow Haarlemer (for more on Van Mander's nationalistic project, see Walter Melion's Shaping the Netherlandish Canon).
According to Van Mander, Geertgen was a student of Albert Van Ouwater. He also records the creation of one of his most famous paintings, Geschiedenis van het gebeente (beenderen) van Johannes de Doper, or, The Legend of the Relics of St. John the Baptist. It was part of a larger triptych for an altar of the Knights of St. John at Haarlem. It was destroyed during the siege of Haarlem in 1573, but parts were saved. The remaining section, in fact, appears to be two pieces sawn out of the same wing. The scenes that have survived show more than one episode of a story in a picture and are of biblical scenes. As is typical of the art of the time it was done primarily on oak panels with oil paints made by mixing pigments with drying oil. This allowed the painter to build up layers of paint to provide different visual effects. The number of works attributed to him (varying between 12 and 16) is under dispute among scholars who discuss the artist (Kessler, Boon, Snyder, Chatelet, Fiero, and Koch).
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